Making headway in a new network

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —January 18, 2006
Filed in Communication, Culture

CafeA first day at a new organisation is often daunting. Apart from just getting up to speed with what you are supposed to be doing you are also trying to find out who you need to know. In a connected world your social network will be one of your most valuable assets.

Much has been learnt about the characteristics of social networks ever since Euler proved it was impossible to cross all seven Konigsberg bridges without crossing the same bridge twice. Here are a few things everyone should know about social networks:

  • connectors exist. Some people have an inordinately large number of social connections while the majority will have very few connections—this is called a scale free network
  • the longer you spend in a network the more chance you have of having more connections—seniority can count
  • you are more likely to make new connections if you already have lots of connections—the rich get richer

These network facts suggest the odds are stacked against a new starter in terms of forming social networks, at least from a perspective of becoming a hub or a connector. But luckily there are others factors at play. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi pinpoints ‘fitness’ as the other key factor affecting a person’s ability to connect. Some people have characteristics which make them natural connectors—great memories for names, likeable personalities, curiosity, humility, openness. In most organisational cultures roles and status have an enormous impact. While other people systematically foster their networks. Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, provides such an approach. Each of these examples, however, concentrate on increasing your ‘hubness’. But how else can you increase your impact in a network?

As organisations begin to understand their social networks they are realising the important role boundary spanners play. These people act as a bridge from one part of the organisation to another. Providing a conduit, therefore, for relationships between disparate parts of an organisation is another way to positively effect the network and make a difference in the organisation. It’s at the intersection of disciplines, for example, where creativity often flourishes. In a follow up post I will talk about identifying these network gaps and how you might fill them.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. joitske says:

    Interesting post! I observe organisations struggling with how to leverage the networks of their employees. Somehow I haven’t seen a single organisation getting to most out of these networks. Do you recognise this as well?

  2. Yes, I agree. Most organisations I’ve dealt with have an intuitive understanding of how their social network operates but don’t keep a network view in their mind.
    We’ve used social network analysis but our take on this approach is to use the output (the network charts) as a sensemaking tool. This means we use the charts to spark conversations among a leadership group and help them resist deliving into the analytical detail. SNA for sensemaking invariably identifies strenghs and weaknesses that provide the source for interventions.

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